Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Day in the (kids) Life

Another typical day of late - Peter and Jack started their day by hitting the books...
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Some of the boys' exercises to learn Chinese characters.  They copy the characters dozens of times to learn the strokes for each one.  In China, the 1st grade is spent memorizing 600 of the most important characters!   We won't get that far, but we'll get a few done!
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The character for square, and circle, respectively, that they're learning - yes the circle character consists of 15 strokes!:

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After "school", the boys went with Sue out to the local import store, Carrefour, and had a western lunch at the Golden Arches. 

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Hangzhou 020They stopped by Bread Talk with Sue to get some French bread baguettes.  There are only a couple of stores in town that we've found sell these and they are a real treat.  There's not much bread in China from what we can tell, so we try to make a special trip once in awhile to get some.  It sure makes us realize how much bread we eat in the U.S., and how little we eat here!

On the way home, these little girls practiced their English with me, and I practiced my Chinese with them.  We were both surprised that we could speak some of each other's language! They were curious (as everyone is!) about why I had a little Chinese girl on my shoulders!
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Sue has been championing the benefits riding the public bus back from the University, rather than waiting around for the school's bus, so I decided to give it a try. I paid my 4 quai, and then was admitted to the waiting room - no turning back!  The bus came and there were no seats.  Greeeaat!  So I stood for an hour on the bus, crushed by Chinese humanity, stopping every 50 feet for a bus stop for the duration of 25 kilometers.
The alternative was having a leisurely wait at the University cafeteria, then riding a comfortable bus WITH A SEAT and getting back BEFORE the public bus.  I certainly learned my lesson on that one!  Why does Sue like the public bus?  She thinks it is more interesting - that was definitely true!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Second Semester Starts

The camera was left at home (sorry, no pics!) but it was another home schooling day for Sue and the boys, and I taught at the University for the second time this week - the first week of the  new semester!

It was wonderful to see all of our students again this week - a few of them had troubles with the bad weather over the holiday; one boy had to stay at a train station 2 nights, but most were unbothered and unscathed. 

This semester I have 2 groups of students for 3 hours in a row, which is a lot of English for them, and a lot of talking for me!  I have been experimenting by breaking up the time playing various word games. Today we played "CONSTANTINOPLE", where I broke up the class into 2 teams and each time had to come up with the longest word they could think of for each letter.  One point per letter was given, with 0 points for any misspelled words.  Harsh!  The students of course love ANYTHING involving competition, and one team beat the other today by ONE LETTER.  When they added their scores, there was a shriek of outrage and disappointment :).  For most of the competitive activities I have been handing out chocolate to the winners to sweeten the pot.

I also passed out some candy hearts from Valentine's Day and explained the sayings, "Head over Heals", "Guess Who?", "Friends 4 Ever", "No Way", etc.  The students enjoyed this as they do with anything involving candy!

Peter and Jack are getting schooled on math, American history, geography, and Chinese.  They even spoke some Chinese to our ayi today, so we feel like they are finding their groove now with home schooling!  This afternoon was a visit to the park and Sue's Polish friend who speaks Chinese very well, much to the Chinese's surprise.  Peter flew his helicopter around at the park and broke a rotor, so he's done flying for awhile.  Sophie is continuing to love her school, and Friday night I have some kind of parents' meeting which should be equally interesting and unintelligible.  I may get one of our Chinese friends to come with me to help me understand everything being said!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Goodies from America!

Hangzhou 014  Unfortunately the weather turned cold again so we have been staying close to home this weekend.  The kids and I did errands today while Sue went to a spa day with her friend.  Sophie got out the watercolor paints and had a grand time.

When we went to the store I was chastised by an older lady for Sophie's clothing.  Sophie was only wearing THREE layers (long johns, long sleeve shirt and a coat) whereby one could still make out the shape of her body underneath.  I tried to explain to this stranger that she just wasn't cold  but she told me that Sophie needed more clothes!  Also as soon as we get into the store Sophie would strip down to her skivvies if she could, so keeping the warm clothes on her is also a challenge!  Sophie always tells me she WANTS to be cold! :)

This weekend we also went out to the campus to retrieve all of our boxes.  We had 3 boxes of letters from the kids at Abia Judd and Mile High schools for a penpal project that we are excited to start.  We also received no less than 6 (SIX) boxes of goodies from Grandma Weatbrook including jelly bellies, bubble gum, granola bars, cereal, beef jerky, books, valentines, and a whole host of other munchies.  THANK YOU GRANDMA!  We brought our suitcase and backpack to campus and unpacked some of the boxes into them,  then road the public bus back to Hangzhou, with kids, boxes, suitcase and backpack in tow!

Here's our little clown, Jack enjoying the last remnants of a huge bubble he blew.  On the right - some Valentine heart stickers that Sophie had stuck all over his face at a local restaurant last night.

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While we sat and visited with our friends, the waitresses played with Sophie.  They lined up all of the Valentines we had received across the restaurant floor making it difficult for the customers and the wait-staff to move around.  Sophie was passed from waitress to waitress and had covered all of them with Valentine stickers.  We definitely left our mark on that restaurant!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Boating on West Lake

Today was home schooling "test day" and the boys buckled down this morning and took their Geography and Math tests.  The both did a great job and we celebrated our first home schooling week by bicycling to a nice lunch at La Varza on West Lake.  It was the warmest day of the year so far, about 70 degrees and we were all overdressed for the weather!

After lunch, we rented these little boats to drive around the lake.  Of course the boys LOVED driving the little boat around.
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Sue and I sat in back and let them drive.
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Peter reviewed the safety instructions that were given to us with the boat.  We could see they were numbered 1 thru 10, but beyond that, we didn't have a clue.
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Our nautical chauffeurs for the afternoon...
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Motoring next to the Bei Causeway...
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The sun came out and so did the cotton candy, which Peter and Jack both sampled.
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We rode down to West Lake and back, and all around the city.  Our legs are tired today as we figure we rode more than 10 miles.  On a bicycle it's not all that far, but doing it in stop and start traffic with a 6 story stair climb at the end is another story!

After 1/2 hour of rest, it's back on the bike to go get Sophie from school!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bamboo-Lined Path at Yunqi

After homeschooling was finished, we took the boys and ventured outside of Hangzhou to a local bamboo forest preserve.  The bamboo was lush and thick, and we enjoyed getting outside after staying in from the rain yesterday.

The taxi driver drove us about 1/2 hour out of the city and I was concerned about getting back in time to get Sophie.  There are NO taxis out this far, but there is a bus line we were unsure of.  We offered the taxi driver 50 yuan to stay while we explored which she was more than happy with (and so were we!)  Since we had transportation back to the city arranged we were able to relax and enjoy this serene place.
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(Left): Sue and Peter enjoying their walk.  (Right): Peter reflected in a pond - but which one is the real Peter?  (He loves these illusions... )

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In amongst the giant bamboo timbers...Hangzhou 020

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Sue and Peter found a little time to break out into a little spontaneous badminton game.  This is a very Chinese thing to do!
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Jack had no INTENTION of being captured on film today, so this was the best I could do.  He didn't even want me to point the camera his way...  Except for the foliage, this picture reminds me of some Bigfoot pictures I have seen from the Cascades :)  If only Bigfoot would wear an orange sweatshirt!
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Small springs erupted from the forest.  The sounds of the wind moving through the bamboo and the springs babbling through the forest were so soothing...
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Peter enjoyed getting this suspension bridge swinging...
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More bamboo...
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... and even MORE bamboo...  Ever seen the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon?
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Peter and Sue enjoying a rest in the forest...
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The boys were aching for some Dairy Queen so we got in the cab and headed for Hefang Street where there was some kind of festival going on.  Throngs of people!  What a contrast to the deserted bamboo forest!
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Sue sitting inside DQ waiting  for the kids to get their Blizzards.  Aah, the small comforts of life!
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Start of Home Schooling

Today was the start of the new semester for the children, and we decided not to have Peter and Jack go back to Chinese school.  Since they weren't making many friends or learning much language, it was time to change course!

In the U.S., there are ESL programs to help the foreign child adjust to the culture and language, but here it's so rare to have a foreigner in the class that this type of program just isn't available.  So for the student, it's a matter of just trying to listen to the Chinese and figure out what's going on.  Doing that for 8 hours a day gets pretty frustrating and BORING!

So, this morning we started our homeschooling. I put together a lesson plan for them which included their mathematics, studying the human heart, reports on Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, memorizing US states (Jack) and the countries of Europe (Peter).  I'll also teach them some basic Chinese myself.  They are excited about this new program so we'll see if we can continue on a high note!

After their lessons were done, we took them on an outing for a Chinese Foot massage.  On our arrival someone had set off a string of several thousand firecrackers. Hangzhou 001
Fireworks will continue to be heard until March 1, or when the first full moon appears.  They seem to be lit off in unison at certain auspicious times.  Today was the 18th of February, and at 8:18, 8:28, noon, and other times, explosions could be heard all of the city.  8 is a lucky number here, so the explosions tend to congregate around that number.  Sue was pelted in the face by fallout from one of the giant fireworks while she was on her bicycle.  She's fine, but it's dangerous out there!

We all sat in a room together and had the 4 masseuses working on us simultaneously.  We were all very relaxed, but Peter had a running commentary on what he felt like, and what was happening during the whole experience.  It was cute!
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The back massage - all a part of the foot massage experience as our pigs are being soaked in boiling hot water.
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"Cupping" our feet.  They pour a little alcohol in a small bowl, light it to decrease the air pressure inside the cup and stick the cup to your foot.  Once your foot is stuck to the cup, the cup is moved around on your foot to draw out the toxins.  The boys thought it was pretty wild!  In fact, we all did!
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A cloth full of warm beans and a wonderful floral scent was placed around our necks.  Heaven!
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I took Peter back to the Starbuck's building and we flew his RC helicopter around inside the big atrium.  I was wondering how much flight time we would get away with since it was a weekday and the businesses had reopened in the building.  It worked to play the dumb foreigner for a little while but after 15 minutes one of the building administrators came over and told us we had to stop.  By that time we had pretty much run out of battery but we were bummed out that we have to find somewhere else to fly it.  Luckily, there are plenty of other big buildings in Hangzhou :).

I also worked on my lesson plan today for next week when Sue and I will both return to the university to resume our classes.

Sophie LOVED her first day back to school which started with a trip to a street vendor for a boiled egg and some rice and meat wrapped in a banana leaf.  Delicious!  Most of our regular noodle places are still closed due to the New Year, but 80% of the shops and businesses have resumed normal operations now and the city is full of people again!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Helicopter Version 2.0

Emptying out Sue's camera, I found these pictures of the Chinese Flaming Candle of Danger that we received with Peter's birthday cake.  Because we had received one with Sophie's cake, previously, we knew what to expect.  Everyone - Safety Glasses On!

First, the lighting of the candle... stand back, boys!
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Our new friend and fellow teacher, Laura came out to dinner with us to celebrate Peter's birthday this week after just having gotten off the plane.  She was a trooper to come out with us after such a long flight.  She did get a chance to see this Chinese birthday candle in it's full regalia.  Six small flames surrounding a 1 foot high sparkling torch of fire including music!
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Today we went to the field by Stefania and Damiano's apartment, and Peter was dying to have Damiano check out his new helicopter.  The previous one crashed and burned as it hit a very large object (the Earth) very hard.  We waited until the store had more in stock and bought another.  This new one is definitely easier to control as well, so we are quite pleased with it.   

Unfortunately the field was locked so Stefania and Damiano came with us to Starbucks which is in a giant office building with a large interior space.  Damiano had quite an affinity for Sue's pink bicycle...
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The building usually has so much security.  Damiano and I tried to guess how many security guards would escort us out of the building.  I said 3, Damiano said 7, and miraculously no one bothered us! 

Here's Peter enjoying the maiden voyage of Helicopter 2.0.  It was the perfect, empty, windless place to learn to fly.
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We all had a turn, but Damiano's flight was by far the best.  He was able to keep it level and fly it under control far better than the rest of us!
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Next, we went to the roof garden to soak up the beautiful weather and kick the soccer ball around a bit.  We couldn't kick it too high because if it went over the edge it would fall 18 stories.
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Damiano and Sophie getting ready pedal to lunch.
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The happy couple getting ready to sit down for some Northern China cuisine.
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We dropped them off at their place and came home to make dinner and so Peter could recharge his helicopter batteries (4-6 hour charge for about 20 minutes of flight time!)  The kids will go to bed early tonight as tomorrow is their first school day of the new semester.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Jingci Temple

The sun was out on this beautiful Saturday, so it was time to take the family out of the apartment.  The boys wanted to stay home and watch "The Simpsons" all day - they bought 18 seasons of episodes for about $7 US.  I just love it when they quote Bart and Homer. :)

Of course I said, "NO" and we headed to the Jingci Temple, a picturesque Buddhist temple on the south side of town.
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Some locals, lighting their incense sticks...
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A dragon carved between the staircases of the Jingci temple.
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(Left) New Years' lanterns still up and (right) an urn for holding and burning incense.
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Inside this stunning temple was a huge Buddha idol, and lots of decoration.
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Here's our own little Buddha peering out from the temple gate.
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Of course Jack is too skinny and too blonde to be a Buddha.  He's got the smile down though!
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The rows of prayer pillows.  These were roped off by a piece of tape that said, "Police" on it, which didn't really fit with the mood.
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Another view of the immense Buddha idol and decorative carving and painting inside.

The bronze statue of a famous monk, of which there were several, but I just loved this one's eyebrows.  I'm going to try to grow some of those myself.
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Icicles melting in the morning sun after many days of COLD weather.
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One of the Jingci monks, warming himself in the sun.  It was so NICE out today!
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One of the buildings of the Jingci Temple from afar...
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So this blog entry looks really idyllic, but the kids were actually such PAINS to be with today. They were all whiney and complained a lot.  Luckily I was fast with the camera today and  caught a FEW pictures of them smiling :)Hangzhou 051

Triple-decker piggy-back...
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We saw this dead cat at the temple.  Why was it there?  We have no idea, but it was STRANGE! 
"Daddy, is that cat having a nap?"   "Yes Sophie, a very LOOONG nap."

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